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History Of The Adams County Sheriff’s Office

History Of The Adams County Sheriff’s Office

Gettysburg, founded in 1786 on land owned by Samuel Gettys, was 77 years old by the time of the Civil War battle for which the town would become justly famous.  On July 1, 1863, the time of that battle, Adams County itself was 63 years old having been created out of the western portion of York County. Gettysburg served as the County Seat for Adams County. Prior to 1800, the York County Sheriff serviced the Gettysburg area. However, when Adams County was created, the 215 year history of the Adams County Sheriff’s Office began.  

Upon the creation of Adams County, Governor Thomas McKean appointed George Lashells to serve as the first Sheriff of Adams County. Sheriff Lashells served in that position from 1800 to 1802. In 1803, following an election for that post, James Gettys (a descendant of Gettysburg founder, Samuel Gettys) was elected to and served as Adams County’s first elected Sheriff. Mr. Gettys served from 1803 until 1805. 

As a bit of trivia for our readers who are Civil War buffs, we offer the following. Francis Bream, who had served a term as the Adams County Sheriff from 1842 to 1844, was one of the many county residents whose lives were to be disrupted by the Battle of Gettysburg. His crops were destroyed, the lands and fencing ruined, and his house and farm buildings were occupied for nearly a month after the battle and used for field hospitals.  Damages to his farm amounted to $7,000 for which he was never compensated. 

Many people have asked who served as the Sheriff of Adams County during the Battle of Gettysburg. His name was Samuel Wolf. Fortunately, we do have some historical data to tell us what Sheriff Wolf might have been doing during the battle. With two opposing armies totaling approximately 170,000 soldiers, hundreds of artillery pieces and thousands of animals converging in and about the borough and townships of Adams County, prudence would have dictated he do exactly what the rest of the civilian population did; find cover or evacuate the borough. The Battle resulted in a complete lack of civil government for the next four days.

An account handed down by Sheriff Wolfe’s descendants informs us that as the battle was beginning just north and west of the county jail, the Sheriff had made a decision to release all of the prisoners he had in custody. However, within an hour they all came back saying it was safer inside the prison than outside.

“The Adams County Prison on High Street, Gettysburg in 1865.”  Tyson’s Stereoscopic Views, #564. By C. J. Tyson. Gettysburg, PA

Sheriff Wolf then hunkered down with his charges inside the walls of the prison on High Street. For the duration of the battle it was the only place where civil authority was still carried on. Sheriff Wolf applied for $817 in war damages from the Pennsylvania government. We can assume that it was for repairs to the county prison. 

It would take over a year to restore normalcy to Gettysburg and Adams County after the battle and Sheriff Wolfe, as well as his replacement Sheriff Adam Reber, would have been involved in those efforts. There are no records to indicate whether the former or new Sheriff would have been there to witness the dedication ceremony at the new National Cemetery and hear President Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address” at the event but it is reasonable to assume so.   

Union troops move south with the President along Baltimore Street in Gettysburg for the Dedication of the National Cemetery and Lincoln’s “few appropriate comments” on November 17, 1863 

Named in honor of President John Adams, with a population approaching 102,000 in an area of 511 square miles, Adams County is the Commonwealth’s third fastest growing county. The Sheriff’s Office provides service to the Courts of Adams County. Housed in the historic Adams County Court House, it is comprised of an Operations Division responsible for Prisoner Transport, the Personal Property and Civil Process, Courtroom Security and the Warrant Sections. There is a K-9 Bomb Dog under the direct control of the Sheriff. Real Estate Division processes all Sheriff’s Sales for Real Estate. Requests for a Carry Concealed Weapons permit as well as other license requests are also processed through the Sheriff’s Office. 

The Sheriff’s Office employs a number of different vehicles to carry out its mission; sedans, prisoner van, SUVs and a large Prisoner Bus. Like so many of the 67 Sheriff’s Offices throughout the Commonwealth, its deputies enforce traffic laws when necessary and provide assistance to various police agencies within the county. It participates in the US Marshals Service Fugitive Apprehension Task Force. 

For the past two centuries and into the new millennium, some 49 individuals have been elected and served as the Sheriff of Adams County.  Beginning with Sheriff George Lashells in 1800 and continuing to its current Sheriff, James Muller, the Adams County Sheriff’s Office has a 215 year history of providing quality service to the Courts and county citizens alike.